Tight rental market squeezes affordable housing options | SierraSun.com
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Tight rental market squeezes affordable housing options

ABHUTCHISON, Sierra Sun

The availability of affordable housing in Truckee has never been adequate – but the problem appears to be getting worse as prices in real estate rise, and a development at Squaw Valley is proposed that will bring approximately 450 new jobs with no set plans for another affordable housing complex on the horizon.

“I think the affordable housing problem in Truckee and the region is bad and is getting worse fast,” said Town of Truckee Community Development Director Tony Lashbrook. “I have only been here for five years, but over the last five years it has become a problem.”

Lashbrook cites two reasons why affordable housing is strained. One is the large number of lower-paying jobs that will open up over the next several years if Intrawest’s planned alpine pedestrian village is built at the base of Squaw Valley.

“If Intrawest is built and affordable housing is not provided, this will only increase the demand for affordable housing,” said Lashbrook. Placer County is looking into the issue and the possibility of collecting mitigation fees for a housing project.

Additional strain comes from recent trends in real estate in the area.

“The real estate value and rent cost seems to be going up rapidly,” said Lashbrook.

According to local broker and owner of Tahoe Resort Properties, Sandy Casey, the availability for affordable housing does not accommodate the number of people working in lower-income jobs in Truckee.

“I think the main problem from a real estate point of view is that properties have increased,” said Casey. “It’s virtually impossible to find anything under $160,000. And to counter balance that, there are very few rentals under $1,000 a month. We’re in a bind.”

Ruth Frishman, a local business and real estate attorney who has worked as an advocate for affordable housing for 25 years, said the problem is nothing new, but agrees it is attributed the rising rent prices.

“There’s less than a 1 percent vacancy factor. Rents start rising when you have that type of supply and demand,” said Frishman. “The market goes in cycles. A lot of people are getting displaced right now because houses are getting sold.

“If you have two full-time working parents making minimum wage who could afford only $700 a month for housing, you can’t afford that around here.”

With only one affordable housing complex in Truckee, Truckee Pines Apartments, options are scarce. But developing an affordable housing complex is a very complicated and expensive undertaking, said Frishman.

“Tax credits are about the only game in town. You can’t get into the game unless you’ve already played it,” she said.

The California Tax Credit Allocation Committee (TCAC) administers two affordable housing tax credit programs – a federal program and a state program. Both programs were authorized to encourage private investment in rental housing for low- and lower-income families and individuals.

The tax credit program enables affordable housing sponsors and developers to raise project equity through the sale of tax benefits to investors. The state credit was developed in recognition of the high cost of developing housing in California and is only available to a project which has previously received, or is concurrently receiving, an allocation of federal credits.

The need for state credits in designated high cost areas is reduced, according the the TCAC, because additional federal credits are awarded. The eligibility basis is thus increased for developers.

According to Casey, Truckee is a designated as a high cost area in need of affordable housing.

Truckee Pines Apartments were developed 1996 by Cascade Housing Association, a non-profit Springfield, Ore. based organization that specializes in affordable housing units. Cascade Housing has affordable housing complexes in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California. Truckee Pines has 104 one, two, three and four bedroom units and houses approximately 400 people at any given time.

Frishman said Cascade Housing is very experienced in what they do and that its employees are “wonderful people.”

“It (Truckee Pines) is a gorgeous example of how to do it right. It’s well designed and well built. People think of affordable housing filled with drugs and crime …”

Tom Ballou, manager of Truckee Pines said people often think of affordable housing as unpleasant eyesores and disturbances in the community.

“The public perception is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to affordable housing units. People don’t want ghettos and slums in their back yards. That’s not the case here (in Truckee Pines). It’s clean and we have strict rules. It’s not welfare or poverty housing. It’s for people in the middle who need a break,” said Ballou. “The housing is designed for working families.”

Eligibility for housing at Truckee Pines is based on household size and household income. The primary applicant must be able to prove that the monthly household income is at least two and a half times the stated monthly rent.

In order to meet the criteria for residency, a family must show they are in need of affordable housing. For example, a six person household will only meet the criteria if they make under $32,000 a year. A single person without children will not meet the criteria if they make more than $19,560 a year.

Ballou said they look at the projected annual income for the next 12 months, and not the past income.

“Sometimes it’s a real puzzle. You just have to put the puzzle together and see what you come up with,” said Ballou. “As long as when you add up all of the sources of income and it doesn’t go over the limit, you can qualify.”

Ballou said that many tenants at Truckee Pines have Section 8 certificates, collect Aid for Families with Dependent Children or collect Social Security.

Other criteria involves credit and criminal conviction checks. Good credit is basically required, but a person with “colorful credit” won’t necessarily be denied. Bankruptcy, for instance, doesn’t necessarily mean a bad thing, said Ballou; whereas bankruptcy and then bad credit does. Bad credit due to medical bills can be overlooked, but outstanding debt to a previous landlord would be reason for denial.

“A lot of times a remedy to questionable credit is an increased security deposit,” he said.

A criminal background check is conducted on all applicants, and a conviction for any felony or misdemeanor involving theft, assault, drug related or weapons charges is grounds for denial.

“It’s not too restrictive. The whole idea is you get decent people who don’t make a whole lot of money,” said Ballou.

Truckee Pines has a high turn-over rate, and when people apply they are put on a waiting list if there is not a unit available. Ballou said that if you put your name on the waiting list now, a unit will most likely be available in the fall.

According to both Lashbrook and Casey, the town would really benefit from another complex like Truckee Pines.

“It would be a great thing if the town could have another project like Truckee Pines,” said Casey. “We just don’t have many rentals period … I’m hoping we won’t be like Aspen (Colo.). In Aspen, the people who work there can’t afford to live there.”

Frishman and Ballou said that Cascade Housing is pursuing further affordable housing developments in Placer County.

Plans for a 40-unit complex called Truckee River Village has been in the works by Sacramento based Rural California Housing Corporation for almost five years.

“They keep looking like they’re moving forward, but there hasn’t been any dirt moved,” said Lashbrook.

“The level of the problem is accelerating fast,” he said.

The town has approved two projects (Truckee Pines and Truckee River Village) over a lot of opposition. The developments tend to be unpopular with the public, he said.


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